Uncluttering toiletries: the shelf life of shampoo, sunscreen, and more

Unclutterer has written about makeup expiration, but what about all those other toiletries that tend to accumulate? Shampoos, lotions, and other products can also clutter up a bathroom.

Expiration date labels

You may find expiration dates on beauty and body care products to help you make a keep-or-toss decision — but not all products have such requirements.

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, writing in the Chicago Tribune, summarized the requirements in the U.S:

The Food and Drug Administration requires that expiration dates be printed on all prescription and over-the-counter drugs, but not on cosmetics — unless the cosmetics are also considered drugs, such as toothpaste with fluoride, anything with sunscreen, anti-dandruff shampoo and antiperspirant. But even then, over-the-counter drugs without dose limitations don’t have to carry expiration dates if tests have proven they’re stable for at least three years, which is why one sunscreen may have a date while another won’t.

Things are different in the European Union, where cosmetic products with a shelf life of 30 months or more must have a Period-After-Opening symbol indicating how many months the product can be used “without any harm to the consumer” after it’s been opened. (Products with a shorter shelf life are labeled with a “best before” date.) Some American products have decided to use this same symbol, but that is voluntary.

Of course, if you’re going to rely on a PAO guideline, you’ll need to remember when you opened the product. You may want to write that date on the product with a permanent marker, or add a label with the date.

Shampoo (non-dandruff)

Real Simple reported shampoo is good for about three years; Jyl Craven Hair Design suggests “no more than three years and an opened bottle for at most 18 months.” Jyl goes on to say that some products — those that avoid using additives and preservatives — might go bad more quickly.

You can also rely on the smell and the feel of a product to alert you if it has gone bad. Amy Corbett Storch wrote:

How can you tell that shampoo is bad? Usually by the smell. An expired bottle of Pureology, for example, smells straight up like wet dog. Other signs: the shampoo appears separated or extra runny when you squirt some into your hands, and a lack of good lather.

How you store your shampoo can make a difference, too. Aubrey Organics said, discussing skin and body care products: “Long-term exposure of products to sunlight and/or heat should be avoided because the resulting oxidation may affect freshness.”

Sunscreen

Real Simple explained: The Food and Drug Administration requires that all sunscreens maintain their optimal strength for at least three years, but you should also check the printed expiration date on the bottom or the side of the product.

But again, you’ll want to pay attention to how the product appears. Real Simple goes on to quote Zoe Draelos, a dermatologist in High Point, North Carolina: “Most commonly, a foul odor indicates that the preservative has failed.”

And Dr. Lawrence Gibson wrote on the Mayo Clinic website, “Discard sunscreen that is more than 3 years old, has been exposed to high temperatures or has obvious changes in color or consistency.”

Toothpaste

Proctor and Gamble explained about the expiration date on toothpaste with fluoride:

Toothpaste past its expiration date may be less effective — some fluoride won’t bind with tooth enamel, reducing the toothpaste’s ability to strengthen teeth and defend them against cavities. Another result may be viscosity issues, such as toothpaste that is more difficult to squeeze through the tube.

Dr. Joel H. Berg, chairman of pediatric dentistry at the University of Washington in Seattle, explained the binding problem and a bit more in The New York Times.

He said depending how long and at what temperatures the tube was stored, the goo inside could separate, meaning less or more fluoride in each squeeze, and less or more flavoring agent, which could be mintily disconcerting.

Some toothpastes provide recommended storage temperatures. I’ve seen two — AquaFresh and Sensodyne — that say they should be stored below 86ºF, while another says below 77ºF.

Lip balm

Real Simple suggested lip balm can be kept unopened for five years, and opened for one to five years.

For more guidance, you might check with the individual company and see what information it provides. For example, Hurraw! Balm: “We recommend using your tube of Hurraw! Balm within a year of opening (fyi, stability tests place expiration at 3 years ‘on the shelf’) and storing it between 40-72F (4-22C).”

That last part is important, because a number of people indicate that lip balm will often go bad — developing clumps and texture problems — if it gets too hot or too cold, because the emulsification of the materials gets broken.

Conclusion

The more careful we are about how we store our toiletries, the longer they’ll last, and the less we’ll have to toss. But careful storage still doesn’t mean the products last forever.

5 Comments for “Uncluttering toiletries: the shelf life of shampoo, sunscreen, and more”

  1. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    Different countries have different “sell by” and “use by” regulations and also different expiry date coding. If you’ve purchased cosmetics in another country or in a duty-free check the codes and dates for the country of origin of that product.

  2. posted by Martin on

    My challenge for the week is to somehow incorporate the phrase “mintily disconcerting” into a conversation.

  3. posted by Marie on

    I want to meet the person who owns five-year-old lip balm. Only once in my four decades have I finished a stick before it was lost.

  4. posted by Christina Hidek on

    Great tips! Old products seem to clog up bathrooms.

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